Social Question

crazyivan's avatar

Anyone have a suggestion for a non-gender specific pronoun?

Asked by crazyivan (4471points) October 1st, 2010

The more we interact online the more important this becomes. I hesitate to refer to my fellow Jellies as he or she if I don’t actually know their gender and I’m tired of writing out he or she or (s)he. English is long overdue for a few new pronouns here.

We’ll need something for he/she, him/her and his/hers but there are other linguistic gender imbalances we can tackle here too if you wish.

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28 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I like to have ‘ze’ in place of ‘she/he’ and ‘hir’ in place of ‘her/his’ – that’s how I want people to refer to me.

YARNLADY's avatar

Of course, lots of people have suggested them but so far nothing has taken hold.

While we are on the subject of language changes, when will people agree to revise the spelling of words to agree with their pronunciation?

CyanoticWasp's avatar

We could do like Facebook does (and I hate) and call every singular “person” there ‘they’.

ETpro's avatar

They tell me that in English one cannot come up with a gender neutral pronoun capable of serving as a singular and plural.

lillycoyote's avatar

We may just all have to go

here

here

and

here

They’re all the same place but it really seems to make the most sense. Language is a living thing and that seems to be the way things are headed. The purists, like myself, who may or may not actually be right, are probably going to simply have to simply deal with it. Going with the “singular they” seems to be much more organic than trying to artificially inject a new gender neutral pronoun into the language.

muppetish's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir and @YARNLADY both provide good information. I know it drives scholars and grammarians crazy, but I have no qualms with using the words they and their as a gender neutral pronoun (it’s actually what I currently prefer to be referenced as online if one does not refer to me by my username.) The practice of using “they” to refer to a singular subject drives my older brother up the wall and he wants to keep it out of the AP Style Manual.

@YARNLADY Off-topic, but what did you mean by “when will people agree to revise the spelling of words to agree with their pronunciation?” Do you mean we should spell “he” as “hi” and “she” as ”ʃi” based on phonetics?

lillycoyote's avatar

@muppetish Your brother should check out the links I posted. Some of us are just going to have to bite the bullet on this one, I think.

YARNLADY's avatar

@muppetish All spelling should be based on phonetics.

muppetish's avatar

@lillycoyote I agree with what you noted about a singular they feeling organic. I love grammar, but using “they” as a singular pronoun never felt as though I were fighting prescription. It felt fluid in daily conversation and writing whereas writing “he or she” felt absolutely painful (not to mention it instills the idea that there is only a binary system when it comes to gender.)

@YARNLADY I’m transcribing song lyrics using the International Phonetic Alphabet, and although I think it’s a fun way to spend the evening, I don’t think most people would enjoy spelling words the way they are pronounced (”ænd In yor hart yu no It tu bi tru” is not visually pleasing by any stretch of the imagination.) From a non-aesthetic standpoint, I think it would be confusing when we get into regional pronunciation. Some people pronounce “coffee” as “kɔfi” while I pronounce it “kɑfi”

morphail's avatar

“they” has been used as a common-number, common-gender pronoun since the 1300s. It’s as pure as it gets.

YARNLADY's avatar

@muppetish Yes, the pronunciation differences would present a challenge.

lillycoyote's avatar

@YARNLADY All spelling should be based on phonetics? Possibly in a perfect world but the transitional period between the way things are spelled in any given language now and getting to a system where words are spelled phonetically is going to be a killer. I am glad I will be dead before I have to learn how to respell everything.

Nullo's avatar

I use ‘he’ when I’m referring to generic people, since ‘he or she’ is awkward and ‘ze; just sounds stupid. Besides that, it gets a rise out of the sorts of people that I enjoy antagonizing.

@lillycoyote There is a difference, though, between a language naturally evolving a gender-neutral pronoun and some busybody forcing a change. I don’t really see that it’s important enough to warrant a forced change.

@YARNLADY Not every language has the luxury of being phonetic. And I think that it would be a terrible loss to make them change that.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Nullo @lillycoyote Wahhhh, I’ll never learn how to spell.

lillycoyote's avatar

@YARNLADY Then I can certainly understand your desire for phonetic spelling. If only we could. I sympathize. Trust me, I do. I tried to spell “sympathize” about 8 different ways before I finally looked it up so I could get it right!

perspicacious's avatar

I don’t find he/she, him/her, etc. to be a burden —and I write quite a bit. Get rid of your lazy attitude.

YARNLADY's avatar

@perspicacious Get rid of your lazy attitude. OOOOhhhh, thems fighting words, its not lazy to try to get rigid thinking out of our language.

lillycoyote's avatar

@perspicacious I don’t think it’s laziness necessarily. It can just sometimes become very awkward and klunky when you try to construct a complex, gender neutral sentence; and language should be concise and fluid, as well as communicate clearly, at its best, at least.

bob_'s avatar

Das. Hey, it vorks for ze Germans.

Nullo's avatar

@YARNLADY Rigid thinking? I don’t see what’s so rigid about having different pronouns for males and females. We are, after all, quite different.

@bob_ Isn’t Das an article, not a pronoun? * has forgotten most of his German *

Nullo's avatar

@YARNLADY Very much so. It has been one of the central themes of our various arts and entertainment since… oh, since forever.
Surely you’ve noticed it?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Nullo LOL, you have such simple hobbies.

bob_'s avatar

@Nullo Yes. The pronoun is es, which I don’t like as much, and since it’d be a loanword, ich sehe kein Problem.

crazyivan's avatar

@YARNLADY Tad off topic, but isn’t hilarious that phonetic is spelled with a ‘ph’?

basstrom188's avatar

You could use non-gender specific nouns instead of pronouns where appropriate and generally reduce the use of he, she or they

crazyivan's avatar

Most of the time that works fine and I type pretty fast so it isn’t that big a deal to use he or she or (s)he. What prompted the question was a fairly long response I left in another thread where I was defending someone else’s point. Because the screen name didn’t suggest a gender I ended up with an extraordinarily clumsy sentence or two that read something along the lines of:

“The gist of his/her point wasn’t that he/she expected his/her…” and so on.

In the past when this question has been considered it was largely for use in theoretical statements; those statements in which we are referring to a generic gender neutral individual for a hypothetical purpose. Since there aren’t many ramifications of this beyond a low background hum of sexism, it’s not something that was taken too seriously.

But online interaction changes the relevance quite a bit. Because we constantly (or at least increasingly) communicate with people without knowing their gender it inhibits our languages ability to be concise and quick.

Language does not grow by design but rather organically and many people have made the point that we cannot force the language to change. But organic growth begins when we respond to a need. The adoption of the word ‘an’ wasn’t decided in committee, but rather by individuals using it more and more. My guess is that many words will soon compete until one wriggles its way into the popular lexicon.

Nullo's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Many have suggested that we ought to try to enjoy the simple things in life. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t call antagonism my hobby, but rather a garnish. My hobbies tend towards video games, anime, hunting and target shooting, writing, and planning my new computer. Schadenfreude is sort of an Everlasting Gobstopper that I can enjoy anywhere, but whose nutritional content is close enough to negligible that I can’t afford to use it as a proper hobby replacement..

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